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Page last updated at 22:52 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 23:52 UK

China quake toll 'to top 50,000'

The government has asked people to donate equipment to help rescuers

More than 50,000 people may have died in the earthquake that devastated parts of China on Monday, state media say.

The warning came after the government confirmed the death toll had risen to 19,500, as rescue efforts continue to search for thousands still trapped.

About 10 million people across Sichuan province have been directly affected by the 7.9 quake, Chinese media said.

Chinese authorities said 60,000 quake victims had been rescued and that all affected areas had now been reached.

The country is sending 30,000 extra troops to Sichuan to help the 50,000 already involved in rescue efforts.

Some soldiers parachuted into the remotest areas, and essential supplies have been dropped from aircraft.

Desperate search

Beijing says it will accept foreign aid and has agreed to help from rescue teams from Japan and its rival Taiwan.

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Rescue teams pull woman from rubble of collapsed building

Correspondents say the death toll, which rose from 14,866 on Wednesday, is expected to rise further as rescue workers dig more victims out of collapsed buildings.

People are still being found alive - an 11-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble of a school in Yingxiu 68 hours after it was destroyed.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Hanwang says rescuers and relatives continue the desperate search for survivors as hope fades.

Amid the remains of Dongqi Middle School are strewn poignant reminders - textbooks, satchels, a blackboard - of the pupils entombed beneath the rubble, he says.

He saw the agonising wait end for one of many distraught mothers waiting outside the school - she collapsed in tears after identifying the body of her son.

Basic equipment needed

At Juyuan Middle School, near Dujiangyan about 50km (32 miles) from the epicentre, other parents were trying to reach 900 children still trapped in the rubble.

"It's not that we don't trust the rescuers," local resident Deng Yuehong told Associated Press Television on Thursday.

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"They have done a lot of work to search for survivors but they couldn't search all the places in such a large area here and there may be some places that they ignored."

The Chinese government has appealed for basic equipment to help in the rescue operation.

It said hammers, cranes, shovels and rubber boats were urgently needed.

The health ministry says there will also be an increasing demand for medicines and sophisticated medical equipment as survivors are treated for bone fractures, crushed internal organs and kidney failure.

More than 10,000 medical workers, police and volunteers have been sent to Beichuan County, one of the hardest-hit areas in Sichuan province, where up to 5,000 are thought to have died.

Destroyed

But there were suggestions that some of those trying to help bring relief were actually hindering the rescue effort, blocking roads to the worst-hit areas.

"Passionate but inexperienced volunteers have brought little food and their vehicles are blocking roads," the Chengdu chapter of the Young Communist League said in a statement read out on local TV.

RECENT CHINA QUAKES
March, 2008: 7.2 quake in Xinjiang - damage limited
February 2003: 6.8 quake in Xinjiang - at least 94 dead, 200 hurt
January 1998: 6.2 quake in rural Hebei - at least 47 dead, 2,000 hurt
April 1997: 6.6 quake hits Xinjiang - 9 dead, 60 hurt
January 1997: 6.4 quake in Xinjiang - 50 dead, 40 hurt

Meanwhile 17 people were disciplined for allegedly spreading "malicious rumours" about the earthquake, two of whom were put in custody, AFP news agency quoted state media as saying.

Deputy Health Minister Gao Qiang says more than 64,040 people have been treated since Monday's earthquake - 12,587 of them are seriously injured, Xinhua reports.

Officials say about 10 million people have been affected by the quake. Many are in refugee camps, without proper shelter, food or clean water.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has issued an emergency appeal for medical help, food, water and tents.

Gu Qinghui, a member of the Red Cross assessment team told AP television: "I just came back from Beichuan County this morning, basically the whole county has been destroyed, there is no Beichuan County anymore.

"No-one knows what has happened in particular areas, in the villages. I am sure that the numbers [death toll] will just go up continuing day by day."


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